Transforming Difficult Homework into an Academic Opportunity: Developing the Growth Mindset



Parents can feel frustrated when their child’s response to completing homework is: “I don’t get it!” or “We didn’t do this question in class!” But parents might feel assured by the insight that children learn best when they are encouraged and challenged. Research shows that not ‘getting’ homework—at first—is a key moment in children’s academic development. Learning to face and overcome feelings of being ‘stuck’ is crucial to a student’s academic success.

Teachers who are up-to-date on the science of learning and pedagogical research know that homework assignments must include both questions that offer students opportunities to practice the skills that were taught in class and opportunities to explore beyond what has been taught in class, allowing youth to use creativity and problem solving to develop new perspectives. Rather than being expected to solve every question correctly on the first attempt, children should be allowed to get stuck, make errors, and give questions a second or even third attempt. Recent studies show that the experience of returning to an unsolved problem or an unmastered technique not only develops children's academic skills, but also increases their creativity, flexibility, resilience, and self-reliance when presented with intellectual challenges. According to Dweck (2015), children who develop a “growth mindset” see challenges as “energizing rather than intimidating” and “offer[ing] opportunities to learn.” Students who develop a “growth mindset” are more academically successful than their peers.

At Brain Power (an award-winning enrichment learning centre for bright and gifted youth), students receive detailed feedback on weekly homework from their professors before the next class and are invited to make a second attempt at the homework. They are encouraged to take on the challenge themselves. (Parents are encouraged to allow their children to have the rewarding experience of working independently.) At the start of class, the instructor reviews homework and students are encouraged to direct the discussion to the problems they found more challenging, asking questions and developing their problem-solving skills. This model allows for students to solve the problem on their own and have problem solving modelled and explained by a qualified instructor. Our pedagogical strategy aims to nurture the growth mindset, so that students are empowered and excited to learn.

It’s not always a good thing that a child ‘gets’ all of their homework with ease. In such cases, I recommend parents request more challenging homework from their child’s teacher, so that there is a balance between easier and more challenging tasks.

To learn more about developing growth mindsets in gifted children, see the following articles:

Carol S. Dweck’s “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids” in Scientific American (1 January 2015):
www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids1/ 

Gail Post’s “A Life Lesson for Gifted Children: Failure” in Gifted Challenges. (9 August 2013):
https://giftedchallenges.blogspot.ca/2013/08/a-life-lesson-for-gifted-children.html
This article was prepared by the SRC’s Education Expert.

Karine Rashkovsky, Honours B.Sc., B.Ed., M.Ed., Ph.D. (Education Policy) and Founder & Director of Brain Power Enrichment Programs. 
Karine is well-known for her passionate, quirky, and inspiring teaching from the heart, as well as her extensive knowledge in a variety of academic fields. Karine has co-authored Brain Power's math and problem solving textbooks, an advanced grammar and classical literature textbook, and research that has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as Educational Leadership and Urban Education.  Karine's research interests include education policy, critical thinking education, and curriculum, teaching, and social justice. As an experienced and expert teacher, Karine has taught teacher-training courses at York University's Faculty of Education and has provided professional development training for private school educators. In addition to her above contributions, Karine is also the official Education Expert for Vaughan's SRC community and an Ontario Mentor for select top youth startups through the Vaughan Business Enterprise Centre (VBEC). Find out more about Brain Power Enrichment Programs at
 www.brainpower.ca.

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